(Note: I wouldn’t normally post two ‘Conversations with Children’ in a row, but I didn’t want to forget this conversation.)
We’re in the car, where so many of our conversations seem to happen. Six-year-old Big Brother has been quiet for a while, thinkingthinkingthinking. And then the question.
“Mummy, after I die will I come back and be born again?”
As often happens, I find myself mentally pinwheeling. What should I say? What’s the right answer? I don’t even know what I think about reincarnation beyond a vague sense of generic maybe-ness, but my son is looking to me for reassurance and understanding. How do I answer this question with honesty, simplicity, and compassion?
“Well,” I say slowly. “You might.”
“Do people come back again as babies after they die?”
“Some people do,” I say, struggling to put my hitherto unspoken thoughts into words. “Sometimes people choose to come back and be born again, and sometimes people choose to stay dead and live in the Afterlife.”
“I’m going to be born again,” says the boy who was born with the most ancient, knowing eyes I’ve ever seen. “And when I am, if people give me another name I’m going to tell them they’re wrong and I already know my name. I’ll be Big Brother forever.”
I smile. “Will you?”
“Yes.” A pause. Hesitation. “Can I do that?”
“Well,” I say again, my mind racing but my voice calm and measured. “Usually when people are born they don’t remember if they had another life before. So you might not remember your name, because you’d come back as a baby.”
“Oh,” he says. “But… When you die, are you going to choose to come back?”
The questions keep coming, and I don’t know where the conversation is going, and I’m feeling a little scared. Of what, I don’t know.
“I might,” I say.
“Then we can come back together. I don’t want to be born to someone else. I always want you to be with me. So when you come back, I’ll just wait in the Afterlife until you’ve grown up to an adult and then you can born me again. Okay?”
“Okay,” I say. I can’t say anything else. I’m fighting back tears of… of something I can’t name, and trying to drive, and trying not to sound like I’m… like I’m feeling whatever I’m feeling.
“How many days will that take?” my beautiful son asks.
“How many days will what take?”
“How many days will it take for you to be a grown-up?”
“Um. Quite a few.”
He thinks. “I’ve changed my mind,” he says. “I don’t want to be away from you for lots of days. We should both just not be born again and stay in the Afterlife. Then we can be together forever and ever and ever.”
He reaches his hand towards me at the same moment I reached mine back to him.
“I love you, Mummy,” he says.
And the tears flow, whether I want them to or not.